Kenneth P. Wilkinson: A Tribute
On Thursday, November 18, 1993, Dr. Kenneth P. Wilkinson, Distinguished Professor of Rural Sociology, died at home. Dr. Wilkinson joined the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology at Penn State in 1971, after serving as Chief Sociologist for the Cooperative State Research Office, USDA, and as a faculty member and Director of the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University. During his 24 years of service to Penn State and the greater State College area, Ken put into practice his theories about community. He cared for people and places, believed in his friends and students, and felt that all people have the capacity to make a difference.
Among community sociologists, Dr. Wilkinson is without peer. His work on an interactional theory of community and community development has helped shape modern discourse in this field. He published more than 60 publications, including articles in major disciplinary journals such as Rural Sociology, Social Forces, the American Sociological Review, the Journal of the Community Development Society, Social Science Quarterly, and numerous book chapters. His book, The Community in Rural America, provides a concise statement of his thinking on these subjects. In addition, during his academic career, Dr. Wilkinson advised more than 40 graduate students, including serving as director of 23 Ph.D. committees, and served on countless other students' committees. Ken also served as a faculty advisor for many undergraduate students in the Department.
Over the years, his accomplishments have been recognized locally, nationally, and internationally. Ken received the Boggess Award from the Water Resources Association in 1975, the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Mississippi State University in 1984, and a Fulbright Professorship to the Department of Economics at University College in Galway, Ireland for 1988-1989 (during which time he also served as the representative of the Fulbright Scholars Commission in 1989). He also was named a PSU Graduate School Lecturer in 1990, received the Research Accomplishment Award from Gamma Sigma Delta at Penn State in 1991, and the Award for Excellence in Research from the Rural Sociological Society in 1992. In 1992 he became the first member of this Department and only the fourth in the College of Agricultural Sciences to be named Distinguished Professor at Penn State. In addition to these accomplishments, his contributions to the discipline were recognized by his peers through his election as Vice-President (1979-1980) and President (1984-1985) of the Rural Sociological Society, and Council Member (1988) and President (1992) of the International Rural Sociology Association.
Ken's contribution to improving the human condition went well beyond his research and teaching. He lived his work. He was active in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County serving on its Board of Trustees and on numerous committees. In addition, he made a lifelong commitment to criminal justice, co-founding the Community Alternatives in Criminal Justice Program which seeks alternatives to incarceration for those convicted of offenses. He served this non-profit organization in all capacities, including President, Treasurer, Board Member, fund-raiser, and organizer. Ken spent many hours providing testimony on the organization's behalf, and he was always available for counsel. His commitment and service was formally recognized in 1991 when he received the Council for Human Services Volunteer of the Year Award, and again in 1992 when he received the People's National Bank Golden Choice Volunteer of the Quarter Award. Earlier, largely through his efforts, the Community Alternatives in Criminal Justice Program was the recipient of the 1984 Benjamin Rush Award.
Ken Wilkinson's life was devoted to overcoming prejudice, ignorance, and blindness. He filled each of us with compassion for the needy and taught through his deeds the ability to be selfless in our acts. His visions of better communities and the development of a general social well-being, will serve as goals for all of us as we pursue the work that he began in our names. We will miss him, but he will never be far from our hearts or our minds.
A fund has been established in Ken's name. For those wishing to contribute, please make your checks payable to: PSU: Kenneth P. Wilkinson Fund
Send to: Kenneth P. Wilkinson Fund
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The Pennsylvania State University
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